Our Staff

Kevin Byrd, AICP

Executive Director

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Kevin began working for the Commission in 2005 as a Regional Planner and was appointed Executive Director in October 2009. He has over 15 years of community development experience in the public sector at the town, county and regional levels of government along with private sector consulting experience. He has a Masters degree in Urban and Regional Planning from Virginia Tech and a Bachelor of Science degree from Appalachian State University.

He is currently serving as Past President of the National Association of Development Organizations (NADO); Secretary/Treasurer of the Virginia Association of Planning District Commissions, and is on the Board of Directors for Carilion Clinic-NRV; Live, Work, Eat, Grow, Inc.; and the Southeast Regional Directors Institute.

He has received the Distinguished Business Leader of the Year Award from the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce and the President’s Award from the Virginia Association of Planning District Commissions. In 2018 the New River Valley Regional Commission was selected as the Best Place to Work government category by the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce.

When not working, you can often find Kevin running the roads and trails around the region or wetting a line in search of fish.

Kathleen Armstrong

Regional Planner II/Community Designer

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Kathleen joined the Commission as a Regional Planner in 2021 after completing a master’s in Landscape Architecture at North Carolina State University. During her time at NCSU, she became intrigued with participatory design theory and worked to create implementable tools for diverse communities across the region. Kathleen has worked in the community engagement field for the past 6 years, in both experiential education and food access. At the commission, Kathleen focuses on communication and community outreach. She is passionate about assisting local partners envision the future of their region and connect to the environment.

Jessica Barrett, CPA

Director of Finance and Personnel

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Jessica joined the Commission in March 2018 as a part-time finance technician following 2 years as the Supervisor of Finance for a local school district. Prior to her work in school finance, she spent over 10 years in public accounting, with the most recent being in the tax department of a regional accounting firm.

Jessica holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Accountancy from Bluefield State College in West Virginia. She is a licensed CPA in WV and a member of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants.

Summer Bork

Economic Recovery Planner

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Summer was hired in November 2020 as NRVRC’s Economic Recovery Planner. Her role is to understand how communities and businesses in the region have been impacted by COVID-19, and work with them to create a new—hopefully better—normal.  As a part of these efforts, she is working on composing an Economic Recovery Plan for the region, and the assisting with the Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS) Update. 

Summer earned her master’s degree in Urban and Regional Planning from Virginia Tech in 2020, and her BA in History from James Madison University. While pursuing her master’s degree, Summer worked for Virginia Tech’s Institute of Policy and Governance where she assisted with the data management and process evaluation for a Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services (SAMHSA) grant. She also worked on several projects as part of her Graduate Studies including a site planning project for the National Park Service, research and preliminary language for a temporary/seasonal vending ordinance in Buena Vista, VA, and recommendations for enabling legislation for craft beer production in the Town of Blacksburg, among other projects. 

Aphi Fancon, AICP

Director of Community Development

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Aphi joined the commission as a regional planner in 2017 after working in Florida for 8 years. Before relocating to Virginia, she worked extensively with long range and current planning as the Senior Planner at the City of Titusville, and the City Planner at the City of Cocoa Beach Florida. Aphi was heavily involved with updating the city comprehensive plans, including compliance with water supply concurrency, working with staff, various boards, commissions and the community. She played a key role in Greater Titusville EcoHeritage Trail Plan, and was a staff liaison to the Titusville Environmental Commission.

Aphi holds a Masters degree in Water Resource Planning and Management from the University of Florida, a Masters in Planning from the School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi, and a Bachelors in Civil Engineering from NERIST, India. She has also completed an intensive study program in Urban Ecological Planning as a NORAD fellow in Norwegian University of Science and Technology.

Nicole Hersch, ASLA

Regional Planner II/ Community Designer

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Nicole joined the commission in 2019 after completing a dual master’s in landscape architecture and natural resources from Virginia Tech. At the commission, Nicole is passionate about working with people from around the region towards improved water quality and healthy lands. She exhibits her expertise on projects like the New River Watershed Roundtable, the Plant Southwest Virginia Natives Campaign, and the Crab Creek Beautification Project. She also enjoys leading community design projects, assisting local partners in conceptual design of public spaces. Nicole sits on the board of the New River Conservancy and co-chairs their Technical Advisory Committee. She also serves on the Recreation Advisory Board for the Town of Blacksburg and the Executive Committee of the Virginia chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects. She is a 2021 fellow with the Virginia Natural Resource Leadership Institute.

Holly Lesko

Program Director

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Holly joined NRVRC in October 2020 and has been supporting the BCT with business and school outreach throughout the pandemic.  She is now helping to position businesses, governments, and communities to be prepared and more resilient to future impacts to health and economy. She has lived and worked in the New River Valley since 1989 and this position is a true return to her roots as her first position after graduate school was with the NRVRC as an economic development planner in 1992. Holly has worked with communities and organizations in the New River Valley region and across the Commonwealth for the past 30+ years in the areas of comprehensive planning, leadership development, economic development and enhancement, educational training and curriculum development, public health assessment and program delivery, grant writing, facilitation, assessment, and evaluation as well as grassroots community organizing.

Her focus in community development is on long-range goal development with community health assessments evaluation tools to create new ways of viewing and approaching issues and concepts through inclusive and diverse community engagement. In previous work at Virginia Tech, she served as the Principal Investigator for the Healthy NRV project in partnership with the NRVRC with Robert Wood Johnson Foundation funding. This project was a community-based participatory research program focused on assessing the impacts of health factors in community development and engaging youth in local communities in community health conversations utilizing her skills in community engagement, inclusive partnership-centered programming, as well as digital storytelling and gathering.

Additionally, Holly has worked extensively with federal, state, and local funding agencies and has helped local organizations and communities secure over $6,000,000 in local, state and federal aid to further development and community projects in the region.  Holly holds a Masters in Urban and Regional Planning from Virginia Tech.


Janet McNew

Finance Technician

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Janet is a life-long resident of Pulaski County. After twenty-five years in the banking field she joined the Regional Commission in September of 1999 as a Project Manager. While serving as a Project Manager she worked on a number of community projects including a transitional housing center in Radford as well as the Commerce Center and Jacksonville Center in Floyd. In January 2012 Janet was promoted to Director of Finance and Personnel a position she held until retiring in September 2019. She has been in the part-time Finance Technician role since November 2019.

John O'Shea

Project Manager

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John joined the Commission in December 2021 as the Project Manager – Infrastructure after serving a local municipality’s public works department as the Safety and Special Projects Manager for over 13 years. His initial focus will be on water, sewer, and broadband working to ensure service to neighborhoods. John’s background in infrastructure includes planning, installation, and maintenance of capital projects, as well as improving operational efficiencies in these areas by introducing digital mapping to utilities personnel.

John earned his master’s degree in Applied Experimental Psychology from Virginia Tech, his BA from Christopher Newport, and recently earned a two-year graduate certificate from Virginia Tech and the Mid-Atlantic Public Works Institute. Study areas included Supervision, Leadership, Management, Finance, Law, Media, Communications, and Executive Leadership. He is also certified by VDEM through their professional development program and FEMA through the Advanced Professional Development in Emergency Management. John has over 28 years of service volunteering in the community in search and rescue, EMS, and technical rescue, all under the umbrella of Blacksburg Volunteer Rescue Squad. He considers his work at the Commission as a natural extension of his commitment to serve.

Hannah Palko, PhD

Regional Cartographer/Geospatial Analyst

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Hannah joined the Commission in June 2022 as the Regional Cartographer and Geospatial Analyst. Her role at the Commission is to support the Commission’s diverse projects via geospatial data collection, analysis, and visualization. Hannah cares deeply about socially and ecologically sustainable development. Prior to joining the Commission, Hannah was a GIS technician and instructor in the Department of Geography and Earth Science at UNC Charlotte, where she also completed her PhD in geography. Her dissertation was on green burial co-creative placemaking in the United States. She believes geography is a beautiful blend of science, creativity, and community.

Hannah received her BS in biology from Meredith College in 2014 and her MS in ecology from UNC Chapel Hill in 2017. She is a Carolina Tar Heel at heart, but is quickly falling in love with Virginia and the New River Valley Region.

Bethany Peters

Regional Planner/Information Specialist

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Bethany joined the Commission in March 2021. She began as a planning intern and was hired as an Information Specialist in May 2022. She is passionate about supporting community outreach and education initiatives while creating a high level of accessibility to Commission resources by communicating ideas through technology and art. Her role is to develop and maintain content for the Commission’s website projects and publications.

Bethany has a creative background with a Bachelors in Music Education from Radford University, and transitioned into the information technology field with a web development degree and design certificates from NRCC. She is a life-long resident of the New River Valley.

Julie Phillips

Office Manager

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Julie joined the Regional Commission in 2012 as Office Manager after working for a local remodeling firm for 6 1/2 years. Julie serves as staff support to the Regional Commission board of directors as well as support for the Commission convening role through Member Services. She also provides staff support for the Commission’s finance role for the New River/Mount Rogers Workforce Investment Board, New River Valley Commerce Park, Virginia Recycling Association, and the Southwest Virginia Solid Waste Managers Association. Julie has a Bachelor of Science degree in Design from Radford University.

Joy Rumley

Director of Economic Development

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Joy joined the Regional Commission in October 2021. She has over 18 years of community and economic development experience in a variety of programs in her prior roles at the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD). In 2019, she received her Historic Real Estate Finance Professional certification from the National Development Council. She earned her bachelor’s degree in Business Administration with a concentration in Management from Virginia Intermont College. Joy has a passion for assisting communities with strategic planning and implementation, project planning and development and connecting communities to needed resources.

Elijah Sharp

Deputy Executive Director

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Eli joined the New River Valley Regional Commission in 2009. As Deputy Executive Director, Eli is responsible for managing the agency-wide annual work program and executing the day-to-day operational activities of the agency. In addition, Eli has the distinct pleasure of leading the planning and GIS team, who contribute to more than 40 projects across the New River Valley each year.

Eli has over fifteen years of combined private and public sector experience in rural and urban transportation planning, conceptual design, community and land development, agriculture, grant writing and administration, public engagement, and stormwater management. Eli enjoys working with state and local partners on collaborative projects that bring community visions to life.

Eli has a Bachelor of Science degree in Civil Engineering Technology and a Bachelor of Science degree in Architectural Engineering Technology, from Bluefield State College, WV. He currently serves as the Vice Chair of the NRVMPO Technical Advisory Committee, Co-Chair of the NRV Regional Transit Coordinating Council, as a representative on the National Rural Planning Organization Council of Peers, and is a founding member of the American Society for Highway Engineers, Blue Ridge Chapter. Prior to joining the Commission, Eli was a Civil Engineer for a private consulting firm in Blacksburg, Virginia.

Christy Straight, AICP

Director of Environmental Resources

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Christy has been a Regional Planner with the Commission since 2008. Her work program with the Commission spans a range of planning topics including hazard mitigation planning, transportation demand management, grant administration for community development, and economic development. She serves on the board of the Rural Planning Caucus of Virginia and is active in the Association for Commuter Transportation. Her background includes a degree in journalism from Ohio University and over a decade in marketing and sales for engineering and environmental services firms.

Emily Warren

Finance Technician

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Emily joined the Commission in March 2022. She is a recent graduate from Radford University where she obtained a Bachelor's degree in Finance as well as a certification in Excel. While in school, she was Vice President of Sigma Alpha Omega, an organization that strived to do community service wherever possible. She organized and ran fundraisers to help local business and shelters. She has recently moved to the New River Valley full time and has joined the Commission to help make an impact in her community.

Jennifer Wilsie, AICP

Director of Housing

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Jennifer joined the Commission in 2007. She works extensively with affordable housing and community development projects throughout the region, including the completion of the Regional + Local Housing Study in 2021. She is inspired by the collaborative way the Commission approaches all its work and the ability to pursue and grow relationships with funders, localities, and citizens. Jennifer is a Virginia Tech alum, a photography aficionado, and a supporter of the oxford comma.